This week is the 20th anniversary of a program that helped build Alutiiq language awareness on Kodiak Island.
The Alutiiq Museum airs the Alutiiq Word of the Week on KMXT Public Radio in short segments, prints it in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, and posts the podcast to its website.
It also archives Alutiiq words, their pronunciations, and their meanings on its website under categories like art, fishing, and health.
Museum executive director, April Laktonen Counceller, says she first got involved in the program in about 2003, when she was the Alutiiq Language and Educational Outreach Specialist.
She says at that point she’d been studying the language for about six months.
“I just knew what the alphabet was, and I knew how to look up words in the dictionary, and so just because of that very, very basic knowledge I had more skill in the language than most people in the public, so I was able to use my very basic knowledge along with the help of a number of different elders in the community to get the words right and the sentences right.”
Counceller says, in the beginning, they reached out to other speakers of Alaska Native dialects for help, and they used less outside guidance as time went on. But she says local elders have remained a big resource.
She says many Kodiak locals, like her, did not hear a lot of Alutiiq or see much Alutiiq art growing up.
“A lot of those things were still kind of languishing and hadn’t been revitalized, and so there wasn’t a strong sense of cultural identity for the broader Alutiiq community and I think that the Alutiiq word of the week has really changed that.”
She says there’s now much more information on the Alutiiq language available, and the Alutiiq Word of the Week was one of the museum’s first steps towards building the community’s knowledge of Alutiiq culture.